Life Changing

A life-changing present: Owensboro native Belcher donates kidney to 7-year-old

Owensboro native Tim Belcher, who is now a member of the Lexington Fire Department, recently gave a literal life-changing gift to a fellow fireman’s son in the form of a kidney. 

Belcher has been a member of the LFD for 16 years and has known Lt. Joe Sexton for 11 of those. During that time they not only worked together, but Belcher was also a groomsman in Sexton’s wedding. 

A couple of years ago, Joe’s son John — who was 5 at the time and is now 7 — found out he needed a new kidney after an E.coli contraction developed into a rare disease that destroys blood cells and affects the kidneys and blood clotting functions.

They watched as John, a “normal” kid, maintained a positive attitude while taking medications, eating a certain diet, and traveling to Cincinnati for appointments. In addition, he had to do kidney dialysis nightly for 10 hours. 

“Many things that John loved to do before all of this came to a stop,” Joe said. “Swimming at the lake or public pools due to potential bacterial infects … and spending the night at friends’ houses.”

Belcher, along with others in the Lexington Fire Department, were tested to be potential donors. His daughter Charley is close in age to John, and Belcher said one of the reasons he wanted to be tested was seeing the lifestyle changes John had to go through. 

“[John] loves helping out on their farm, playing Roblox and Minecraft,” Belcher said. “It hit extra close to home as I’ve seen all the amazing things my daughter has accomplished and been able to participate in and knowing these things were not an option for John broke my heart. As a fireman, one of my primary duties is to save lives, so you could definitely say that is partly what drew me to do this.”

In early 2022, Belcher received the news he was a match. His family offered “unwavering” support through the process, which included many medical procedures at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 

“The initial concerns were what would change in our life post-donation,” Belcher said. “Now that I am back home to complete my recovery, my girls [his wife Tarah and daughter Charley] are relieved and beyond grateful that everything was successful.”

Joe said that he is “speechless, humbled and forever thankful” for the selfless act Belcher did for his son. 

“I have no words that can express the gratitude to Tim and his family,” he said. “That just proves what kind of person he is … to do something of this magnitude for another person.”

Belcher said that the preparation for the procedure brought him even closer with his family, and while he and John now have “an eternal bond,” the love and support from his extended family is also seen.

As for the firefighting family, Belcher said they were already tight-knit.

“Keep in mind, we literally live with fellow firefighters for 24 hours at a time; we then have 48 hours off to spend with our own families,” Belcher said. “It’s natural for the firehouse to become part of your family and home.”

While that is true, several members volunteered to cover both Belcher’s and Joe’s shifts, including senior members who worked over the recent holidays. Meals have been delivered to their homes and even “normal” household tasks were taken care of for both. CFD’s fire chief also met them for dinner one evening.

“Our brothers from the Cincinnati Firehouse 19 bought and prepared meals for both families all week,” Tim said. “Keep in mind that food firefighters prepare on-shift is bought with money from their own pockets, not provided or paid for by a municipality, as many are led to believe.” 

While Belcher’s recovery is expected to be 6-8 weeks before he can return to full duty, the first 4 weeks are the most restrictive.

John’s recovery will be ongoing as anti-rejection medications and labwork must be done in the near future, but Belcher said the team of physicians is “bewildered” with John’s post-transplant lab results.

“It truly is a miracle to witness [John’s] spirits being lifted and a little boy now returning to ‘normal,’” Belchers said.

Belcher doesn’t consider what he did heroic, although some may argue that point. 

“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that anyone else wouldn’t do if given the same circumstances,” he said. “I do, however, do my best to live like my mantra, ‘If you risk nothing, you lose everything.”

He does feel honored on many levels — to be blessed with the ability to do this, to know the recipient and to encourage others to give the gift of life.

“I’m also humbled,” he said. “I’m humbled that God loves us enough to allow this to happen.”

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